It is sometimes hard, especially as a western traveller in Indian towns, to see the good in people. Such is the way the travel industry has gone, that we are often left feeling that we are viewed merely as an opportunity, and it seems that locals are only interested in talking to us in order to drag us into the brother/cousin/uncles shop where they will endeavour to sell you something at vastly inflated prices. Tuk tuk and taxi drivers will invariably double or quadruple their prices due to the colour of our skin. Whether Delhi, Agra, Jaipur or Jodhpur this is an inevitable part of travel.
So, I was utterly charmed, when venturing to a new-to-me town where one could wander at leisure and witness the milk men delivering the urns to the paneer wallas, where it was poured into huge vats on the street and processed into delicious fresh produce. Dogs lazed around, waiting for spillage, and the locals gathered on the streets, in traditional clothes, smoking bedis and catching up on the latest gossip. Ladies smiled shyly as they prodded their young children into a charming ‘namaste’ as they skipped past me on their way to school. The usual questions of ‘What is your good name?’ and ‘what is your country?’ were genuine questions and not pre requisites to a sales pitch. Sauntering past shops, I was left to browse.
I paused at the shop of a miniature painter, apparently one of the most famous in the country, to admire his work, and within minutes I had an entire elephant painted on my thumbnail. He was mortified when I tried to pay. On hearing my attempts to communicate in Hindi, the chai walla across the street brought me a delicious brew; buffalo milk chai, scented with cardamom and ginger, again with no charge, and the three of us sat in companionable silence watching the world go by.
You see, this was Bundi, and it is like a Rajasthan that time forgot, the Rajasthan I knew from 20 years ago. It is a stunning destination. The Taragarh Fort rises majestically over the town; the step wells are some of the most impressive in the country, the cenotaphs are rarely visited and the markets are still very traditional. It was one of the first destinations where Mr Oberoi bought land and planned a hotel, but for some reason, it was never developed. Bundi is one of Rajasthan’s most impressive towns, yet it has remained undiscovered, undisturbed and unspoilt by mass tourism. This is truly a destination where, one feels, the Old Indian adage is true, ‘Guest is God.’ Visit now before it goes the way of other busier and more popular destinations.
Facts: 3.5 hour drive from Jaipur.
Nearest train station: Kota.
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